Voices

Finding a front-runner

Campaign 2008 | Are we already tired of '08 favorites?

Issue: "All's fair at the fair," Aug. 25, 2007

A young mother from Ohio, very savvy in matters political, was reporting to her father last week her perceptions on the Republican presidential field.

Romney? Mormon and too "slick Willie."

McCain? NO!

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Guiliani? Good on national security. On everything else: blah!

Thompson? Way overhyped.

Paul? I'm just not ready quite yet to go into the "moonbat" category.

Hold it just a minute. The young mother was preparing to say where she was headed in all this-and we'll get back to that in a minute. But what struck me up until this point was how accurately her terse responses reflected those of so many frustrated voters I have talked to over the last few days.

No one's catching fire. The noncombustible nature of the leading candidates may be just as true on the Democratic side as it is among the Republicans. But last week, following the Iowa straw poll, the focus was on the Republicans. The GOP's big three-Romney, McCain, and Giuliani-looked all tuckered out, and they've just barely gotten off the starting block. It's admittedly early, but a nervousness is creeping through the party. Every singer in that front-of-the-stage trio simply has too many negatives to build a winning coalition.

Which, of course, is why so many eyes have tended for three months now to turn to Fred Thompson of Tennessee. But if the Big Three can't manage yet to electrify a campaign, Thompson can't even seem to find the starter button. His launch date has been postponed so often now (and there are just enough worries about whether Thompson himself or his wife is in charge of start dates) that the luster is fading fast. Folks want to know whether his work ethic matches his good ol' boy image. He's a great talker, but people won't wait forever to see if he's that good.

And I already know how my mailbox will fill up with letters from Ron Paul fans, who for weeks have already let me know-repeatedly-that we at WORLD simply don't know gold when we see it. I'm not quite sure what the "moonbat" label implies, or if it's really fair to apply it to a usually honorable man to whom Congress ought to listen more often. But when Paul last week openly joined his ignominious colleagues in their continued use of spending earmarks, trying to slip in several projects for his own district in Texas-and then tried to defend his actions-his credibility as a purist dropped in the general direction of his electability. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn't.

So when I heard the young mother's summary of how things stand, I recalled my prediction here last spring that we were almost certainly headed for such a fix. The ennui you sense among the electorate stems a bit, to be sure, from the absurd marathon length being assigned to the participants. But it comes far more from the discovery by the voters that the "Big Three" (in both parties) just maybe aren't all that big.

In my May prediction, I suggested that one or two candidates would say something dumb and then crash and burn. That hasn't happened yet-at least the crashing and burning part. More likely, I said, some front-runners would just wear out. I think you're watching that.

And all that is what prompted the young mother to say so fervently:

Ahhh. I finally found a candidate I can support. Mike Huckabee. It was like he was speaking to my heart. I think I even got teary.

I'm not saying Mike Huckabee's the man. I am saying it's becoming altogether likely that an unlikely man with an unlikely name will push the front-runners aside.

The young mother's skepticism about the big boys is right on target. While too many pundits have their eyes on electability, she's sniffing out, with uncanny intuition, the much more critical issue of non-electability. And the front-runners in both parties are all carrying heavy baggage.

Whether she's picked the right dark horse may be a totally different issue. But the dark horses, this year and next, are the ones to watch.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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